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Seriously, enough with the fruit already.

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yoyo333 asks:

I have had sex with my girlfriend many times now. And she still has not had her "cherry" popped. She is a soccer player and is very active and I have heard that could effect the "cherry" being popped. So is it just me? Or could it be other factors that could affect the cherry being popped?

Heather Corinna replies:

You probably put the word cherry in quotes because you're not exactly sure what on earth it even is.

That's understandable, since nobody really does, as it's not something real.

Usually, when people talking about "cherry-popping," when it comes to sex, they are colloquially saying that someone simply had intercourse for the first time. That derives from long-ago ideas about the hymen -- a very thin membrane which covers the vaginal opening of women at birth, and which erodes over time into adulthood -- and the fact that people for a long time, and sometimes still, think it "pops" with first intercourse, and if it does not, then a woman clearly has had intercourse before.

But I can assure you, it doesn't usually "pop." If anyone is sitting around waiting for a popping sound, they're in for a long wait. And there is no cherry in the vagina.

Since -- hope springs eternal -- I am determined to have this be the last question we ever answer on this subject in this section, let me be clear.

For the most part, all women are born with a hymen, even though the appearance of the hyman and the vulva can vary a whole lot, and it sits just behind the vaginal opening and, at birth, usually covers it. As a girl grows into a woman, that thin membrane (think of that little membrane that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth to get an idea of the thinness I'm talking about) slowly wears away. It first gets what we call micro-openings, very tiny openings, and over time, those openings expand more and more, due to vaginal discharges, hormones, menstrual flow, general physical activity (one doesn't have to be a soccer player), and yes, also due to any sort of vaginal sex, including masturbation, if and when that occurs. Vaginal intercourse or manual sex with vaginal entry does tend to further that process, or speed it up some, but not by popping anything. That tissue, being so thin, and being without nerve endings of its own, tends to be very flexible, so save when we are talking about forced intercourse or other sex, or genital injury, a penis or fingers will just wear it away more and more over time. Eventually, there will only be traces of it around the edges just inside the vaginal opening: sometimes those are easy to see or discern, sometimes they blend pretty seamlessly into the rest of the tissue of that area.

What age a woman is at often makes a difference, too. Very young women are likely to have more hymen left to wear away than women in their late teens or early twenties, with or without vaginal sex. Ultimately, we don't know why the hymen even exists. It doesn't really serve any real purpose, save perhaps to help keep bacteria out of the vagina and away from the reproductive organs during development. But even that is only an educated guess.

Can a hymen more dramatically break or tear? It can, but when that happens it is most commonly due to injury, sex someone is forcing on that woman, someone having intercourse with very young women, very rough intercourse, or people being really hasty about intercourse. If a male partner were to race into vaginal intercourse before their female partner who had a good deal of hymen left was highly aroused, or try and push himself in like a battering ram, rather than be gradual, tearing can happen. But no one is likely to hear a popping sound: what you're more likely to hear is a female partner expressing pain.

Sometimes, that wearing away will cause bleeding, but sometimes it won't, and bleeding during sex when it happens isn't always just about hymens. Bleeding can also occur because of a partner being too rough and causing injury, because of abrasion from lack of lubrication, lack of arousal or fear. Some sexually transmitted infections can cause bleeding or spotting with intercourse. But when there isn't any bleeding, that doesn't automatically mean someone's hymen isn't wearing away or that they don't have one. It might have worn away on its own mostly already, the way it's wearing away simply might not be causing any bleeding, or, what's left of the hymen may be so minimal, or situated in such a way, that at any given time, vaginal sex isn't having any effect on it at all.

(Some women do have what are called resilient hymens, which means that for those women -- around one in every 2,000 women, last I checked -- all of this gradual wearing away isn't really happening, and for those women, entry of a penis or fingers into the vagina is difficult or impossible. That can, however, be remedied by a very simple, outpatient surgical procedure. However, if the two of you are having intercourse, then your girlfriend is not one of these women, as a resilient hymen either totally blocks vaginal entry or makes the attempt incredibly painful.)

All that said, I'm not sure what it is you or you and your partner are waiting for here. Maybe you expect bleeding when there isn't any, or maybe you are waiting for something to signal that something has been popped. But it sounds to me like you're likely waiting for something that isn't going to happen, and isn't based on a realistic understanding of the female sexual anatomy and what happens -- or doesn't -- during vaginal intercourse.

I'd encourage you not to -- in case this is part of what is going on -- think of causing bleeding as some sort of status issue; as something that proves you've done sex right. In other words, that until a woman bleeds, or a male partner gets some proof he "popped her cherry," sex hasn't been real or complete. Bleeding happens during sex sometimes, for sure, but you're not likely to meet a woman who WANTS to be bleeding during sex, or sees that as a positive. Any changes that happen to a woman's genitals are her own changes, not something someone else should look to own, and sex being of import is about if the people having it are enjoying themselves, physically and emotionally, and finding it important. Without that, even at those times that we might see bleeding or have a genital change, those physical issues can't make sex a major event in our lives.

We good? Here are a few more links to make it all clear, once and for all:

written 22 Jan 2008 . updated 12 Nov 2008

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